Our team is now five months into working from home, and we have found ourselves able to adapt in surprising ways. We had a recent conversation with Paolo Campos, Associate Principal at Patriquin Architects, about changes to collaboration and technology use during remote work. See below for excerpts from the conversation, and video clip demonstrations of the various software tools we use to work with clients, consultants, and our own team while physically distant.
What was your original thinking behind the software & technology strategy you helped establish at Patriquin Architects?
To Karin’s credit, she saw the writing on the wall [technology-wise]. When I joined the office in 2016, she had just upgraded the office to Revit, which is a software that does virtual 3-dimensional modeling called “building information modeling.” I brought in 3D printing and a rendering software called Lumion as a way to improve what we were looking at and help make design decisions. Revit is where we virtually build and design our project, assigning real critical thought and analysis; Lumion is a means of being able to see that project in a way that is easily accessible not just for us, but also for clients. We can fly people through the model and they get it immediately.
Generations starting with me and following me have grown up with video games and virtual worlds. Architecture can take advantage of that in making design decisions, and in coordinating with consultants and other trades. I tried to bring that ability to our practice, so that we weren’t just using Revit as a documentation tool, but also a design tool. And so that we were using Lumion as a working tool – not just to make finished renderings, but integrating it into the design process. We could see early on what options or finishes look like, making it a key part of the practice.
What has surprised you about the transition to remote collaboration, from a technology perspective? What new applications have you discovered for existing tools?
All of the tools were actually there, the only thing we had to learn how to use were the different remote collaboration software such Zoom and GoTo. We’ve also learned new tips and tricks in various software to help with marking up drawings and diagramming as we go. We have the tools to make a change, move things around and mark things up live in a meeting. We used to do this on trace paper; we can now do it in PDFs, and have found it to be a really productive way of looking at things collaboratively on screens.
It does require that we put ourselves out there as designers by working on the fly, and being more vulnerable. It’s been more exciting and energetic than how we’ve presented in the past. There will always be a place for having printed drawings to present at a meeting, but I’ve also found that I like the process of having a screen to view together – whether we’re sharing a room or spread across the state. I think it’s powerful to be able to move things live on a screen in a way that we may not be able to do on paper. That’s something that I want to keep pushing forward, even as we move beyond the pandemic.
How does the collaboration workflow compare for in-house collaboration, collaboration with consultants, and collaboration with clients?
For the first time, we had a Landscape Architect who worked with us to translate their landscape design from a different software into our Revit and Lumion models. In the past, we authored the Lumion model completely on our own, and interpreted drawings or diagrams that we got from our consultants. What was nice about this project was that we were sharing models back and forth between the two offices, and the Landscape Architect was working on putting together the landscape exactly how they wanted to see it. It required them to grapple with a software that they had not used to a great extent. To their credit, it pushed them out of their comfort zone, but they rose to the occasion and I think the result is fantastic.
We also involve our clients in this process. We’ll have a meeting with our clients and move things around with them. It’s not polished, it’s not refined, but it’s about a process and about iteration. I’ve actually found that this is exciting for clients to see – instead of us leaving our kick-off meeting and working in our black box, we return to them and say, “Alright, here are our first thoughts – let’s talk, diagram, roll up our sleeves and start moving things around.” And it’s yielded very positive gains in our working process – it’s made us more open, more collaborative, and more engaged with our clients.
Are there certain aspects to in-person meetings that you are still figuring out how to approximate remotely?
The biggest challenge is not the technology, but gauging reactions, and the human touch of things. When a person is sitting across the table from you, you can pick up nuances and shifts in body language; that’s much harder to do when we’re reduced to thumbnail-sized heads on a screen.
That’s been the biggest frustration I’ve seen: people are still not wholly comfortable interacting through a screen. Although I do think that this mindset is changing and people are coming to understand that there are benefits to a successful remote meeting (e.g., better for time because you’re not driving long distances or flying). There is something to be said for grappling with this, and figuring out a way to be more comfortable moving forward, through successful reading of human body language.
Do you have any particular victories to share from the past five months of remote collaboration?
I’ve found that I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone in having to work through things on the fly. As we go through the process, we look for ways to improve rather than remaining static and doing things in the same way; we ask, “What are other means of achieving this?” It’s made me ask more questions and push more things both internally and externally. I’m more open to asking “What do you guys think?” or “Hey, does anyone know how to do this” or “Does anybody want to take this on?”
Another nice thing is that previously, the client may have been very shy about sketching something on one of our drawings, but now that reluctance or reticence is gone. The drawings are not treated as precious anymore. People are more willing to say “I’m going to make a really dumb and dirty sketch – I hope you can understand it – and flash it in front of the camera.” And I encourage that – it’s about getting feedback, and hearing what appeals to people in the Lumion model, and what’s not working yet. The design process is exactly when that discussion should be happening.
Please contact us at your convenience to learn more about our practice, process, and how we work with clients to bring projects to completion, even during this time of social distance. You can review our online portfolio to see the results of successful past collaborations.